The Grand Old Man of Connaught Place, 90-year-old R.P. Puri, still remembers the incidents that rocked Connaught Place on August 10, 1942. After Gandhiji gave the call on August 9, 1942, in Bombay to the British government to quit India, the next day a mob led by Congress workers seized Connaught Place, then the citadel of Delhi’s European residents.
Apart from frequenting CP to shop, watch movies and plays, many English and Irish residents also owned shops in the area. Puri, who used to sell newspapers and magazines from the pavement of CP those days, recalls the mob damaging popular showrooms like Army and Navy (a well-known men’s clothing shop) and Lawrence and Mayo (that still sells glasses). Rankling and Co. (now Mohanlal and Sons) too was damaged, as the name led the mob to believe it was British-owned even though an Indian had just purchased the showroom from an Englishman. When the agitators came to know it was owned by an Indian, they stopped venting the ire against it. Later, Indian-owned shops put up boards stating their shops were not owned by Englishmen. Some of the members of the violent crowd were carrying the Congress flag and there were hardly any policemen around. Photographer Ashok Dilwali, owner of Kinsey Photo Studio, remembers that there was a difference between what happened in 1948 and, 42 years later, in 1984. After the assassination of Indira Gandhi, many anti-social elements had looted shops in CP.
According to Dilwali, whose father was an employee in Kinsey Studio, after Gandhi’s ‘Quit India’ call, activists vent their anger against shops owned by Englishmen, but didn’t loot them. After 1942, the British photographer Kinsey left India and the shop came to be owned by Ashok’s father. Wengers, a favourite Delhi confectionery, then owned by an Irish couple, was closed on August 10, 1942. The husband and wife left India after 1947.
( Vivek Shukla is a Delhi-based journalist. )